Monterey Herald: With deep local roots, Jackie Greene returns to Monterey

It’s hard to believe that Jackie Greene is already 38 years old, married and a father to a 1-year-old daughter, Luca. It seems like only yesterday that the Salinas-born/Sacramento-raised Americana singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist was making his big break onto the greater music scene. That was in 2002 when he released the award-winning “Gone Wanderin’” his first recording with DIG Records and his second following his self released “Rusty Nails.” A year later he would re-release his indie debut on DIG.

Six full-length albums down the road, he is riding high with short-run tours following the release on Blue Rose Records of Volumes 1 and 2 of the EP “The Modern Lives.” He performs with his Modern Lives Band at the Golden State Theatre presented by Folk Yeah! on Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available through or by phone at 831-649-1070.

Greene, who moved back to Northern California from Brooklyn, New York after Luca’s birth to be nearer family, is still recording his albums in his own studio, playing every instrument and for “The Modern Lives” volumes, writing every song.

“We had a little apartment in Brooklyn that had a basement. In Brooklyn that’s like gold,” he explained on the phone from his Sacramento area home. “So we were lucky enough to have this little space. I just moved whatever recording gear I could. I had a drum kit … I didn’t have much.

A young Jackie Greene playing the Monterey Jazz Fest in 2004. (Monterey Herald archives)
“I’ve always sort of made recordings wherever I lived. I’ve gotten kind of good at it over the years … but this was sort of a challenge. I had to forget I was in a basement in New York and there were car horns and you could hear people talking outside.

“Oh man, what an exercise, a meditation. You have to not care that much about that stuff. It was difficult at first, but I got into it, and ended up writing all these songs and recording them.”

Known for his interest in American roots music, Greene has done well with his bluesy folk, with forays into rock, bluegrass, R&B and gospel. He has for the most part been a solo act, either performing alone with his guitars, harmonicas and keyboards, or with his own Jackie Greene Band. But he’s also known for joining forces with like-minded players like Grateful Dead founding members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, and with Chris Robinson, initially playing lead guitar with Robinson’s former band The Black Crowes. He has also been in collaborations that combined any number of other musicians.

Greene has been somewhat of a regular at the Folk Yeah! co-produced Hipnic festivals in Big Sur, playing his own music and jamming with co-producer Tim Bluhm and his band the Mother Hips. Add to that list Gov’t Mule with Warren Haynes, and his time with Trigger Hippy, a fairly short-lived but well-received project with singer Joan Osborne.

But this time around he felt the urge to bring together a band that had more gospel roots. He found that when he met Shannon Sanders, a Nashville-based Hammond B-3 player and producer. He said they clicked when they met and Sanders helped to put together the band that he’s bringing to his concert at the Golden State Theatre. It’s a six-piece ensemble, minus the horn section that makes up the entire band he uses only when performing live.

With his flexibility and abilities to jam with just about anyone, Greene is enjoying this new band and looks forward to showcasing his music here where he knows the audience has an appreciation for good music.

“It’s fun, yeah, it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a different show. We did a short run on the East Coast last year, and it was very well received. That’s what we’re doing next week, doing a short run on the West Coast and we’ll try and bring the love out West.”

Currently busy writing songs pretty much all the time, for the most part when he’s not tending to his young family, Greene looks forward to bringing out some newly recorded material by the end of the year.

“I’m just trying to figure out where all these songs go right now,” he said. “It’s a bunch of songs and I need a place to put them.”

It’s been a joy to watch as Greene has grown up and found his way mostly among the generation of musicians who are the leading lights of the alternative jam band rock scene. He has toured nationally with blues greats B.B. King and Buddy Guy, and bands that straddle the lines of roots music just like he does, folks like Los Lobos and Taj Mahal. His songs have made it into movies and television series and he’s partnered with Academy Award-nominated “King of Indie Animation” Bill Plympton for a series of music videos for “The Modern Lives-Vol.1” EP. It has culminated in them becoming a short film and it is currently making the rounds at film festivals where it has already won a couple of awards.

“I would say the days of my hapless, reckless youth are gone, and now it’s time to be more of an adult for more reasons than just having a kid,” he said. “No one likes a 40-year-old weirdo. This is all I know how to do really. I find different ways of doing it as time goes on. Like writing and making music. But inevitably I always find a way to do it. It’s the thing that keeps me motivated and happy. Lucky me. Thank God it’s something that I love to do and I can do it for a living.”

Those are words of wisdom from a still young man who will only grow wiser as time passes and he continues to mine his intellect for material that reflects his life as a family man and an artistic soul. He’s made it this far through hard work and dedication, spending countless hours and days on the road playing his and others music to appreciative crowds.

For his show Friday he hadn’t quite yet put together a set-list, but rehearsals were soon to start for the three-date West Coast run he’s making with his newest band The Modern Lives Band. Old songs will get a new twist with the gospel/R&B flavors this group brings as well the new songs being brought to bear for his hometown fans.

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